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China Expats. Life Is Good.

Posted in Recommended Reading

HSBC just came out with a super-cool website that compares life as an expat in various countries.  The website ranks conditions for expats based on three categories: economics, experience, and raising children.  And guess what?  China comes out number 1.

If you take out the raising children portion, however, China comes in at number 2, behind Thailand.  Interestingly, HSBC did not have enough information to rank Thailand on the raising children portion and so it was not in the rankings at all with that metric.  It therefore is not possible to know whether Thailand or China would have been first overall.

Either way though, China did very well so clearly life as an expat in China is pretty good.  The HSBC rankings do make for fascinating reading  and I recommend that you check it out.

China expats, what do you think?

  • r_s_g

    I guess this data was compiled via a survey of expats, but I can’t really figure out how China ranks so high. I don’t understand how China scores high on metrics like “healthy diet,”, “organising finances,” “meeting local friends,” etc. Sure, it’s still true that a Western salary goes pretty far in China (although not as far as it used to in first tier cities), so I can understand that respondents would have high overall economic satisfaction. But the quality of life metrics seem bizarre to me. I mean, organizing finances? Have the respondents ever been to a state-owned bank? China really ranks number one on “sports?” Really? Outdoor sports are a health risk in many cities due to air quality! Number four on “integrating into the community?” That’s laughable, unless your community comes with a gate…

    Honestly, I have to wonder if most of the China-based expats interviewed are fresh off the boat. I remember once being convinced that the Mainland Chinese diet is healthy, too, or believing that Chinese people wanted to actually be my friend (as opposed to wanting to develop a beneficial relationship with me for business or “face” reasons). The only other explanation I can think of is that they accidentally conducted the survey in the Republic of China and not on the Mainland…

  • KC

    If you put aside the pollution and health-related issues, China is a pretty child-friendly place. Also, a lot of expats here can afford nannies and better schools that they might not be able to afford in the US – cost of living.

    As a recent grad living in China I can say the cost of living and friendliness of the Chinese people is a large aspect allows expats to live happier lives, but then again, there are pleanty of frustrating things about living here too.

    • Chris_Waugh

      #1: “Expat” does not mean “American”. The world consists of considerably more countries than China and the USA. I could get my daughter considerably better education at far lower cost back in my home country, as could many other expats.

      #2: Child friendly in many ways, yes, but… There’s the high cost, high pressure and dubious quality of education in the local school system or the even higher cost in international schools. The health care system needs a lot of improving. Air pollution. The cost of living shoots up dramatically once you have a child to take care of – and not just because there’s an extra mouth to feed, the prices of goods and services for babies and small children are really quite high. “The friendliness of the Chinese people”? The Chinese are just as diverse as any other nation. Many are friendly, yes, but I come across many who, sometimes even when they’re trying to be friendly, are not. China really needs an introduction to Edward Said – the sheer amount of “Othering” my daughter is subject to (and at 2 1/2 it’s not like she has the awareness or skills to cope with it) is infuriating – just last night on the way home from kindergarten one of my own students got right up in her face screaming “Oh she’s so cute!!!!!!!!!!!!” without a thought that perhaps that might not be the most appropriate way to treat a toddler who does not know you, and I often have people running up shouting “Hey! Look at the little foreigner!”.

      Ok, big rant, sorry. China certainly has many advantages, and I can think of many worse places to raise a child – many, many worse places when that child is a girl. But for HSBC to have China at #1, especially with all those comments about kids, education and healthcare, strongly suggests to me there’s something wrong with their survey. Or is it another of these surveys of and for only those on those legendary Big Phat Expat packages, and therefore bears little resemblance to actual life on the ground in China?

      • KC

        All good points. And, I certainly have my rant about China days too, so no worries. You’re right, expat doesn’t mean American, I was just offering my opinion as an American expat. Also, I think you make a good point with China being diverse; as far as Chinese people being friendly, I was merely saying relative to other Asian countries I have lived in. With that said, the whole accosting foreign Children over their appearance thing – I get it, it gets really old after a while. Ah, I guess this will teach me not to attempt shortening my comments without writing out all my thoughts.

    • Tim

      Ok, but it’s rather hard to put pollution and health risk to the side. Also, tuition for the international schools in China is comparable to a 4-year college in the States but I assume many respondents were on packages that softens this cost.

  • Эдисон Чан

    The methodology has been changed this year, to kiss China’s ass. Of course.

  • Francis du Bois

    Is this a joke? Americans or Europeans or Asians working here, sorry but schools are bloody expensive, you don’t know what you are eating, your medical emergencies are better treated outside China, rent is super expensive and the air… well I guess you know about that… So HSBC go and do your homework again and fire the team who wrote that BS.

  • http://chinastockwatch.wordpress.com/ Mike Cormack

    Living in Beijing, the cost of good schooling (which means international schools) is a major concern. These schools know you don’t have a choice but to send your kids there, and charge more than UK private schools. This is okay if you’re on a nice ex-pat package, but if you’re a regular worker in Beijing, this is outrageously expensive.

  • Ward Chartier

    US national with 7 years in Shanghai, 3 in Malaysia, 4 at various countries in Europe. China was the most challenging country in which I worked, but I greatly value the experience of living and working there. Rents are high (approx $3000 per month), school fees are high for US-type education (approx $25K per year per student), and these company-paid expenses are taxable as normal income in the US. Concerns about living in China include pollution (may well have been a cause of my serious medical issues incurred there), food adulteration (incurred two significant bacterial infections), and availability of medical care requiring extended specialist care. Once I got the medical care turned on, which was like pulling an elephant through a knothole, the quality of care was good. On the positive side, personal safety from crime in Shanghai and every place I went was excellent. Public transportation works well. Availability of goods and services is what one would expect of an international city. People can be unusually hospitable. Government offices, though as bureaucratic as just about any other country, eventually came through with results. Proximity to the wondrous history and culture in China made non-working and vacation time very enjoyable. Overall, if someone was pondering whether to take an assignment in China or not, I’d emphatically say, “Yes!” People sometimes ask which of the 6 countries in which I’ve lived and worked do I like best. My honest answer is that each country has several outstanding qualities to commend it.

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    • A3000

      I want to visit China, to possibly learn Mandarin,and as a tourist. Question is-in your opinion-which province or city in China( if you know this) is least polluted and more “liberal,open minded towards foreigners”? And if these same cities are affordable? Any unbiased link would be nice to know since “many news on line paints a “biased informations on this stats.”

      • Ward Chartier

        One way to find out about pollution is to Google air quality index. Those data are reliable. Stay away from cities known for coal mining, steel mills, petroleum refining, and chemical manufacturing. Stay away from cities with populations of, say, 5 million or more since pollution from trucks, busses, and cars will be greater.

        In general, I have found people in China to be welcoming of Westerners. I never personally experienced any animosity or threats. From having lived there, Shanghai and Suzhou are places with great personal safety. In both places I’ve routinely seen young women walking alone on nearly empty streets at midnight or later.

        We foreigners are targets for scams of all sorts, however. Since I am very skeptical at all times and in all places, I never had a problem.

        Following the laws prevents attracting the wrong kinds of attention from the police. Aside from renewing my work and residence permits, I never had any contact with the police.

        Pick a city where you can either get or can easily travel to where you can get good medical care.

        Hope these comments help.

        • A3000

          Thanks for this insights.I will keep these in mind, if I choose to go to China.I was planning to go there to scout out any future possibility of starting a business.At this moment, though it is not entirely possible, yet dream remain still.Would it be ok if I were to contact you again, in the future, if I happen to go to China, to perhaps get to know “acquaintance’s ” that you have established there ,perhaps?

          thanks again.

          • Ward Chartier

            If you wish to contact me, and I am certainly open to that, please look for me on LinkedIn and contact me through that site. I’ll be very glad to help.

  • Ward Chartier

    Need to add that draft Tsingtao, not the kind that comes in 600 ml bottles, is truly excellent. The Tsingtao brewery in Songjiang, on the southwest edge of Shanghai, was about a kilometer from my factory. I’m sad that the brewery GM never asked me to be a guest inspector. I have experience.

  • John

    I’ve been in China for 8 years in various cities and have always thought it’s a pretty good place for foreigners to live. But I too am puzzled where HSBC found these China expats as I never encountered a more miserable bunch of whingers in my life – especially the Americans.

  • Jake Goode

    As an expat living deep in mainland China and having decided to leave my wife and baby in Thailand due to pollution and medical care concerns, I would definitely question the metric. Psychologically, China is an extremely difficult place to live and work. The quality of life can’t be compared to that of Thailand – be it diet, medical care, weather, recreation, things to do and places to go….my job is an incredible sacrifice for me and my family. If the experience and the economics weren’t good, I would already have bought my ticket out. In fact, I would take less money to live in Thailand.
    I would like to draw attention to the fact that the majority of the survey’s respondents were a) young (probably single) (46%) b) American (54%) c) English teachers (25%). Once you have to consider your baby breathing this air, your attitude might change. Also, once you consider that you can make similar money elsewhere, the sacrifice is questionable just for the ‘experience’.
    The other issue is, just what ‘experience’ are you getting. Are you learning some important techincal skills that can transfer anywhere? Or are you just learning how crazy this place is? I’m in the latter category, and I sometimes ask myself if I am not digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole.

    • A3000

      hi, I came across your comment on Chinalawblog site in which you mentioned that “living in China can be psychologically very difficult”-can you elaborate more on that ? ( people are “edgy,rude, in your face, anything else that defines your meaning ?)
      (2) Also, can you survive as a tourist if you don’t know Mandarin ?
      and perhaps you want to stay back few months enrolled in learning
      Mandarin-if its a good idea at all ?

      • Ward Chartier

        Doing many things in China struck me as a struggle or fight. Entangling bureaucracy, the tendency of many service providers to say No just because they can.

        Sometimes, people can be rude, but that is true of any of the 6 countries in which I’ve lived. I’ve also experienced tremendous hospitality and warmth among the Chinese people I’ve encountered.

        I can do little more in Chinese language than order a meal and pay for it. Nevertheless, I was able to survive quite nicely in China for 7 years. True, many people helped me in all sorts of ways.

        Yes, spending a few months to learn as much Mandarin as you can will definitely pay off for you. Then continue formal instruction in China. It’s quite possible you could exchange for giving English lessons to your Chinese language teacher.

        Challenges notwithstanding, I would very happily return to China to live and work.